MSF in Yemen: Helping Amid ConflictInstability continues to plague Yemen, exposing almost 20 million people to food insecurity and more than one million to cholera. The damage is evident in Yemen’s weak healthcare system, which leaves millions of people vulnerable. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, is an organization that provides healthcare for people affected by conflict and poverty. Though warfare complicates operations on the ground, MSF in Yemen is not giving up.

The Challenges of Aid in Yemen

In 2018, an airstrike destroyed a newly built cholera treatment center. Fortunately, there were no patients or workers present at the time, but the vital project had to be put on pause until repairs and reconstruction could begin. Events like this threaten the effectiveness of MSF in Yemen and risk the lives of the 16 million people who lack basic healthcare.

MSF also runs 12 healthcare centers of its own in addition to the 20 hospitals the organization supports. Its operations have treated more than 1.6 million people suffering from injuries, disease and chronic illnesses. MSF’s activities in Yemen take place in a constantly changing and dangerous environment. Since 2015, constant fighting between various militant groups has damaged countless Yemeni health facilities, leaving only half fully functioning. Many hospitals and health facilities in the areas have closed down because of safety concerns or because they cannot pay workers.

MSF in Yemen

The facility that was destroyed was one of many new treatment centers responding to the cholera outbreak. Cholera is a serious issue in Yemen and has killed 2,184 people since April 2017. Because of the violence, almost 16 million Yemenis have suffered from reduced access to clean water and sanitation, which increases their vulnerability to cholera. MSF quickly reacted to the outbreak by opening 37 treatment centers and oral rehydration points. In just six months after the breakout, MSF admitted more than 100,000 cholera patients. While the threat of cholera has decreased since 2017, treatment centers remain a vital safe haven for those afflicted.

MSF responded to another issue caused by the lack of healthcare facilities: pregnancy. In 2017, MSF in Yemen helped 7,900 women deliver their babies. Pregnant mothers are especially vulnerable because they lack access to clinics. Even when there is a health facility nearby, traveling may be too dangerous or time-consuming. Consequently, mothers give birth at home, which exposes them to health risks.  Many pregnant women also don’t have access to prenatal care and can have preventable but fatal complications.

Treatment Centers In Yemen

MSF in Yemen dealt with the re-emergence of diphtheria in 2017. The organization acted quickly by opening up a treatment center in Ibb where 70 percent of cases were concentrated. MSF treated around 400 patients that year alone. As successful as that operation was, others remain an issue, like renal failure. Multiple renal failure treatment centers have been forced to close due to the conflict. Many facilities are under-equipped and some 4,000 patients are still left untreated.

Treatment centers are often too far, or treatment itself is too expensive. Patients require three dialysis sessions a week, so many will reduce the number of treatments to lower the cost. Unfortunately, this can be dangerous and ineffective in treating renal failure. MSF responded to the crisis and has helped more than 800 patients by offering 83,000 dialysis treatments and importing 800 tons of supplies.

More than 20 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, facing hunger, disease and displacement. MSF continues to provide aid through one of its largest programs in the world. Since 1986, MSF in Yemen has been compensating for the lack of effective healthcare, even amid the conflict.

Massarath Fatima

Photo: Flickr

Worker Remittances and Poverty in the Arab World
The Arab world has one of the highest proportions of migrant to local workers in the world, with over 32 million migrant workers in the Arab states in 2015 alone. In addition, the region has one of the largest diasporas in the world. This means that many skilled workers are emigrating to wealthier countries and sending money home via remittances. But what do remittances in the Arab World mean for the region and its inhabitants?

Brain Drain vs. Gain

In Lebanon and Jordan, unskilled labor is provided by growing numbers of refugees and foreign workers, totaling over five million in 2015. However, as more foreign workers enter the country, growing numbers of high-skilled Lebanese and Jordanian nationals are emigrating. This often occurs when opportunities are limited, when unemployment is high and economic growth slows. The phenomenon is dubbed ‘brain drain’ as opposed to ‘brain gain’, whereby an increasing stock of human capital boosts economies. A drain occurs while poor countries lose their most high-skilled workers and wealthier countries in turn gain these educated professionals.

Remittances in the Arab World

These expatriates commonly work to improve their own living situations while also helping to support their friends and families. This is where remittances come into play. As defined by the Migration Data Portal, remittances are financial or in-kind transfers made by migrants to friends and relatives in their communities of origin. Remittances often exceed official development aid.  They are also frequently more effective in alleviating poverty. In 2014 alone, the Arab states remitted more than $109 billion, largely from the United States followed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

There is no denying that remittances can be a strong driving force for the socioeconomic stability of many Arab countries. But not all the influences are positive. Some experts argue that remittances can actually hurt the development of recipient countries. Their arguments cite potential negative effects of labor mobility and over-reliance on remittances. They emphasize that this can create dependency which undermines recipients’ incentive to find work. All this means an overall slowing of economic growth and a perpetuation of current socioeconomic status.

The Force of the Diaspora

The link between remittances in the Arab world and poverty is clear. Brain drain perpetuates and high amounts of remittance inflow and outflow persist if living conditions remain unchanged. Policymakers are therefore focusing efforts on enticing emigrants to return to their countries of origin. By strengthening ties with migrant networks, and implementing strategies like entrepreneurial start-up incentives and talent plans, the initial negative effects of brain drain could be curbed.

Overall, though brain drain and remittances can seem to hurt development in the short-term, if policies can draw high-skilled workers back, contributions to long-term economic development can erase these negative aspects altogether. Young populations that have emigrated to more developed countries acquire education and valuable experience that is essential to promote entrepreneurship in their home countries. Moreover, their experiences in advanced democracies can bolster their contribution to improved governance in their countries of origin. The Arab world’s greatest untapped potential is its diaspora, and it could be the key to a more prosperous future, if only it can be harnessed.

Natalie Marie Abdou
Photo: Flickr

Schools for Sierra LeoneSierra Leone is a country with an abundant amount of natural resources located on the West Coast of Africa. From 1991 to 2002, Sierra Leone endured a civil war that had detrimental effects on the country’s physical, social and economic infrastructure. After the civil war, Sierra Leone made significant progress in almost all sectors. Unfortunately, its education sector is still facing challenges. Organizations such as SOS Children’s’ Villages International and Schools for Salone, with the support of the Government of Sierra Leone, have stepped in to help better Sierra Leone’s education sector.

School Attendance Rates

Since the civil war, Sierra Leone has made great efforts in rebuilding destroyed, abandoned and damaged schools, but most schools are still in need of repairs. Furthermore, many schools lack sufficient learning materials or qualified teachers. However, Sierra Leone has seen an impressive percentage increase in primary school enrollment. Nearly 100 percent of both boys and girls attend primary school. There is only a 2 percent difference between boys and girls completing their education, boys at 69 percent, and girls at 67.

Although primary school attendance rates have continued to increase, school dropout rates for both boys and girls is an alarming concern. When it comes to secondary school, the numbers drop to 57 percent of both boys and girls attend lower secondary school. Unfortunately, that number drops even further to 29 percent for boys and 26 percent for girls when it comes to enrolling in upper secondary school. There is a 53 percent drop out rate of both boys and girls. There is even a bigger disparity in attendance rates and completion rates for both girls and boys in rural areas of Sierra Leone because of the lack of access to schooling.

Since 60 percent of people in Sierra Leone live under the poverty line, it makes it difficult for many households to afford school for their children. It was reported, in the 2015 Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis, that 35 percent of households don’t enroll their children in school due to lack of funds and about 28 percent don’t have a functioning school in their village or community. Building more schools for Sierra Leone, especially in rural areas, is important and vital for the future of the people and the country.

Organizations Making a Change

SOS Children’s Villages provides various programs to make sure that children have access to quality education and training to prepare them to become independent adults. Some of the things the programs have created and supported are improving child-centered quality education, creating inclusive learning environments, working with communities and authorities to build schools as well as providing speech therapy and after-school tutoring, mentoring and coaching for the youth. SOS Children’s Villages also runs the schools that it has established and built in order to ensure quality education. About 3,000 students have benefited from the organizations’ schools and programs in Sierra Leone.

In 2005, Schools for Salone began its mission to provide quality education to the people of Sierra Leone. Since 2005, the organization has built 22 primary school buildings and three school libraries. These facilities serve more than 6,500 children across Sierra Leone. Schools for Salone has also provided training opportunities for more than 150 teachers. Its main missions are to build schools, keep boys and girls in school and provide scholarship opportunities for the children of Sierra Leone.

The civil war in Sierra Leone had many repercussions and has affected all of the country’s sectors; however, it is most apparent in its education sector. Organizations such as SOS Children’s Villages and Schools for Salone have decided to help improve the education sector of the country. More schools for Sierra Leone could mean a brighter future for the country’s education sector, but more importantly, a brighter future for the children of Sierra Leone.

Jocelyn Aguilar
Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in TajikistanTajikistan, located in Central Asia, has a population of over 8 million people. Tajikistan has borders to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. Although Tajikistan’s financial sector has made significant progress since 2000, many new advancements such as credit access are still in need of improvement. In 2017, almost 30 percent of Tajiks were living below the poverty line. Finding a solution to increase credit access in Tajikistan has become an important task for the government of Tajikistan.

Tajikistan’s Reliance on Remittances

Due to Tajikistan’s limited employment opportunities, about 90 percent of Tajiks travel out of the country for work. They often travel to the Russian Federation in search of employment. Many migrant workers send remittances back to their friends and family in Tajikistan. More than 60 percent of Tajik households reported that half of their income comes from remittances with 30 percent of Tajik households reporting that 100 percent of their income comes from remittances.

A 2010 Labor Organization study reported on how Tajik households save their income and remittances. The study found that only 23 percent of people were able to save their remittances with only 9 percent able to save at a partial amount of 21 to 40 percent of the money. When the money can be saved, it is not often for long. In fact, only 11 percent of the people were able to save their remittances for more than six months.

Income savings did slightly better. At least 63 percent reported being able to save part of their income. For example, 51 percent saved about 20 percent of their income. However, only 3 percent could save between 41-60 percent of their income. Since remittances are the main source of income in many Tajik households, money is spent on immediate needs, which results in low percentages in income saving.

Credit Access in Tajikistan

According to a 2010 International Labor Organization study, 95 percent of Tajik households do not keep their savings in financial institutions. Due to Tajikistan’s remote and unique mountainous terrain, 95 percent of Tajik households are not aware of the savings products available to them or know where financial institutions are located. Credit access in Tajikistan isn’t seen as a necessity in many Tajik households because it is very common and traditional for Tajiks to keep their savings at home. There also seems to be “a general distrust” of financial institutions.

In April 2010, the World Bank Group, with the help of the Government of Switzerland, launched the IFC Azerbaijan-Central Asia Financial Markets Infrastructure Advisory Services Project. This three-phase project is aimed at improving the financial infrastructure of Tajikistan and expanding credit for people and small businesses. This would allow for the creation of more jobs.

The project also provided financial literacy training to more than 100,000 Tajiks, which allowed Tajiks to become knowledgable about where their savings go. As a result of the IFC Azerbaijan-Central Asia Financial Markets Infrastructure Advisory Services Project, Tajikistan’s financial sector was able to establish the first private Credit Information Bureau with the help of IFC and the National Bank of Tajikistan.

These crucial advancements have led Tajikistan’s financial sector in the right direction toward improving credit access in Tajikistan as well as addressing the needs of the people of Tajikistan. With impoved credit access comes financial security, an increase in small businesses and a better economic standing.

Jocelyn Aguilar
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in SomaliaLocated in Eastern Africa, Somalia continues to persist through political unrest. Withstanding colonialism until the late 1960s, civil war, authoritarian government, extreme poverty, environmental devastation and most recently, increased activity by jihadist fundamentalist group Al-Shabaab, educational opportunities may seem bleak, especially for girls. In the face of national struggle, the quest for education persists. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Somalia.

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Somalia

  1. Somalia has one of the lowest school enrollment rates in the world. In 2018, 86 percent of Somalis between the ages of 15 and 24 received no education. Eighty-one percent of girls between the ages of 6 and 11 do not attend primary school and 79 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 do not attend secondary school. The percentages for boys in the same age groups are slightly lower at 77 percent and 66 percent, respectively, showing a drastic disparity between genders. Only 1 percent of Somalis completed their post-secondary education in 2018.
  2. Poverty creates a huge barrier to girls’ education in Somalia. 1991 marked the end of a central school system due to political instability. Outside of Puntland and Somaliland (nearby states that offer more stability), private schools require parents to pay for their children’s school fees. However, almost 75 percent of the population lives under $2 per day. Consequently, 96 percent of Somalia’s poorest children never attend primary or secondary school while 50 percent of children belonging to Somalia’s wealthiest families receive primary education and 60 percent receive secondary educations.
  3. There is a huge need for resources for girls’ education in Somalia. Civil war combined with drought and flooding left school infrastructure in poor condition. Girls in particular lack adequate access to sanitation facilities and toilets, further disincentivizing girls from going to school. Additionally, there is a lack of qualified teachers in Somalia. Less than 20 percent of teachers are women.
  4. Close to 40 percent of children in Somalia between the ages of 5 and 14 are engaged in child labor. Almost 54 percent of these child laborers are girls, while 44.5 percent are boys. Nearly 40 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 work instead of going to school and 20.2 percent of children between the ages of 7 and 14 have jobs and go to school. Child laborers often endure dangerous conditions farming, herding livestock, mining, working in construction or selling goods and services on the streets. Children also face recruitment by groups like Al-Shabaab who force or coerce boys into becoming soldiers while they target girls for domestic and sexual slavery.
  5. Female genital cutting (FGC) affects between 95 and 98 percent of Somali women. Girls and women who aren’t cut are likely to face discrimination and can oftentimes have difficulty finding a husband to support them financially. As a result, families will often arrange the procedure when girls are between the ages of 4 and 11. The invasive procedure often leads to marriage and motherhood, resulting in higher drop out rates for girls in higher grades.
  6. More than half of Somali girls are married between the ages of 15 and 18. By the age of 18, the majority of girls have undergone FGC and are expected to take on the roles of wife and mother, leaving little opportunity to be a student. The combination of high poverty rates, political instability and high fertility rates, marrying daughters to husbands who can provide for them oftentimes seems like a viable option.
  7. Employment opportunities for women in Somalia are limited. Women in Somalia face an unemployment rate of 74 percent compared to 61 percent for men. Somalia’s economy is driven by agriculture, making a formal education seem unnecessary, especially for women who are more likely to perform domestic work or caring for livestock.
  8. The Africa Educational Trust is dedicated to girls’ education in Somalia. Since 1996, the AET has focused on increasing accessibility for girls and other marginalized communities to receive an education. The organization promotes “girl-friendly” spaces, training teachers, rebuilding the school system and supporting the national curriculum framework.
  9. The Somali Girls Education Promotion Programme helped increase student enrollment by more than 16 percent. Over the course of 4 years, the SOMGEP seeks to increase girls’ education in Somalia by shifting gender norms, increasing girls’ participation in school, improving learning conditions and developing girls’ leadership skills. Halfway through the project in 2016, the SOMGEP recorded increases in math and literacy rates along with increased religious support for girls’ education in Somalia
  10. Somalia drafted and approved its National Gender Policy. Over a 10-year period beginning in 2014, the policy seeks to build schools, improve access to schools, promote free primary education, increase enrollment and retention rates for girls and “facilitat[e] development and promotion of … gender-sensitive national curriculum that includes Women, Peace, and Security education.”

Increasing access to girls’ education in Somalia faces challenges such as limited access to schools, political uncertainty, widespread poverty and gender disparity. However, 2012 ushered in an attempt to implement a central authority, including newly elected parliament members and a president who is working towards political and national security, which will hopefully begin to eradicate some of the biggest challenges facing Somalis.

– Keeley Griego
Photo: Unsplash

Apps Help FarmersAccording to the Thinus Enslin, founder and owner of AgriPrecise, one of the biggest issues facing farmers is the high cost of over-fertilizing, leading to negative effects on the environment. The company’s AgIQ app aids the productivity of African farmers. With the help of the app, farmers can now use more efficacious methods to grow crops. The app aids farmers in using the right amount of fertilizer for crops to grow well. Because of the app, farmers can decrease the cost of growing crops and boost crop production.

AgriPrecise

The company AgriPrecise is located in Potchefstroom in South Africa. The primary purpose of the company is to gather and make sense of fertilizer and soil data. For 20 years, AgriPrecise has worked in agriculture, having worked in Zimbabwe and Zambia for 7 years. AgriPrecise has also worked in South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

The company provides services in areas such as agronomy and consulting, data analysis, grid soil sampling, soil classifications, NDUI imagery and monitoring and data processing. Over the past 8 years, AgriPrecise has changed much of its work to IT. IT is helping in another part of its mission, which is to promote sustainable farming methods and practices.

AgriPrecise’s software development partner is the Centurion-based technology solutions company Moyo Business Advisory. To assist farmers, AgriPrecise utilizes satellite imagery and conducts accurate soil sampling. The farmer will have access to a location-based visual display of his or her farm, fields and the conditions and will also be able to gather data on crops and pests. Then, data scientists carry out analytics and send the findings to the farmers.

AgriPrecise’s AgIQ App

Out of 1.166 billion people, more than 60 percent of people in Africa live in rural areas. Much of the economy in Africa is dependent on agriculture. In fact, 32 percent of its GDP is from agriculture. AgriPrecise’s AgIQ app meets a large part of Africa’s economy. The app aids the productivity of African Farmers through a number of steps. First, the app makes an assessment of the data and then finds the integral parts,  showing a farm, field and soil analysis. Lastly, it gathers information on all the kinds of crops ranging from vegetables to sugarcane.

The AgIQ app aids the productivity of African farmers through a sensor attached to a tractor that measures the amount of nitrogen needed to grow crops, so it can spread the right amount of fertilizer. The sensors on the tractor face down on each side of the bar on the roof of the tractor. The sensors measure the greenness of and the density of the crops below it. Facing up are the light intensity sensors that check the level of ambient light. The greenness measures plant health through analysis of the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves. This way the correct amount of nitrogen can be used to help grow crops.

One of the areas that the app helps gain information on is crop yields. The goal of AgriPrecise is to pick up patterns in growing crops to increase production, boost the quality of the crops and lower cost of growing them. The app has helped farmers increase their crop production by 2 percent, which has led to a 10 percent increase in profits.

One of the issues facing farmers that AgriPrecise’s AgIQ app aids the productivity of African farmers by helping farmers with is the cost of production and amount of crops grown. The app helps decrease the cost of growing crops and increase crop production. The app also diminishes negative effects on the environment by reducing over-fertilization. With the creation of the app AgIQ, farmers can take positive steps towards carrying out sustainable agricultural practices.

Daniel McAndrew-Greiner

Photo: Unsplash

Tuberculosis in Southeast AsiaTuberculosis is a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This bacteria usually attacks the lungs, but TB can also affect any part of the body, including the kidneys, spine and brain. Tuberculosis is highly contagious and spreads through the air from person to person. It is most infectious when it is in a person’s lungs, not in their kidneys or other organs.

Southeast Asia’s Member States Goal to End TB by 2030

Worldwide, 10 million people contract TB annually, killing 1.6 million people. Tuberculosis in Southeast Asia accounts for 44 percent of cases and 50 percent of the deaths from this disease. This region only makes up a quarter of the world’s population.

In 2017, the WHO Southeast Asia Region’s Member States issued a call for action to accelerate the progress that is being made to exterminate tuberculosis around the globe. A year later in 2018, the same group released a Statement of Action to further increase these efforts.

To that end, domestic budgetary allocations have more than doubled. There has been a concerted effort in technology and medicines. The region has adopted a people-centered approach so that they can find more cases. For the first time, case finding has become a core focus, particularly in high-risk groups. Patient-centered policies are being implemented, including direct cash transfers and nutritional support for persons for tuberculosis. Governments are also including civil society organizations in decision making, and more people are joining the effort to combat TB as a result.

Further Efforts to Fight Tuberculosis in Southeast Asia

By 2020, at least 1.8 million tuberculosis-infected patients need to diagnosed and treated, 1.5 million of these should be children. Efforts are also being made to address the 500,000 people with drug-resistant TB. Overall, the plan is to ensure that 12 million people currently at risk receive preventative medicines and vaccines.

Adequate access to low-cost TB drugs via South-South cooperation is also an important policy objective. The goal is that more drugs will be produced with enhanced diagnostics so that more people can be reached.

These countries are working together to make great strides in ending tuberculosis in Southeast Asia. They are working with organizations, like WHO and USAID, to increase local advocacy and communications, to mobilize people to do their part. In Thailand, the Thailand TB Active Surveillance Network was established to strengthen the capacity to watch with outbreaks and cases throughout the region.

In addition, USAID has helped to strengthen regional-specific TB training modules, increasing infrastructure and training across the region so that more laboratories can be created and staffed.

Regional leaders have joined forces to combat tuberculosis in Southeast Asia, with the goal of ending preventable deaths. While there is still a long way to go, with the progress and action that the governments and their people are taking every day, the goal of ending tuberculosis in Southeast Asia by 2030 will be achieved.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr

maternal mortality mozambiqueMaternal health in Mozambique is a constant concern as the nation’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. While some progress has been made, there is still much that needs to be done to ensure that mothers in Mozambique have to access high-quality healthcare. Recently, two initiatives have been created, the Mozambique-Canada Maternal Health Project and a project by the Maternal and Child Survival Program. They are working to improve maternal health in Mozambique.

The Current State of Maternal Health

In 2015, the maternal mortality rate was 489 deaths per 100,000 live births. Approximately one-fifth of these deaths are women under the age of 20. Maternal mortality has declined since 1990 when there were approximately 1390 deaths per 100,000 live births; however, maternal deaths remain high. It is clear that continued efforts are needed to improve the quality of maternal health in Mozambique. Each day, approximately 800 pregnant women die from preventable causes.

One of the primary factors determining maternal mortality rates is the availability of antenatal care. In regions where more women receive four or more antenatal visits, the maternal mortality rate is generally lower. Globally, 62 percent of pregnant women have at least four antenatal visits with a skilled health professional, while 86 percent of women have at least one. In Mozambique, only 51 percent of expectant mothers have at least four antenatal visits.

Additionally, only 54 percent of births are attended by skilled health personnel. Age is also a factor, with 40 percent of women 20-24 years old reporting that they gave birth before the age of 18. Younger mothers have an increased risk of death during childbirth, particularly if there is not someone with medical training present.

Early marriage logically leads to childbirth at a younger age and improving maternal mortality rates in the nation relies on protecting young women. In response to this, the government of Mozambique created the National Strategy to Prevent and Combat Early Marriage in 2016. This program includes better education about sexual and reproductive rights with the goal of empowering women to seek out appropriate care and understand their legal rights. For poorer women, this knowledge is often not enough, however, as they may not have the autonomy to make a legal case or have a healthcare facility readily available to them.

Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP)

The Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP) has launched a project in Mozambique’s Zambézia Province focused on treating pregnant women with malaria. Malaria currently accounts for 9.6 percent of deaths in the nation, and the rate in the Zambézia Province higher than the average. This project seeks to improve maternal health in Mozambique by tackling maternal and newborn deaths due to malaria.

Malaria during pregnancy has many consequences, including higher rates of maternal anemia and low birthweight babies. These factors increase the likelihood of maternal death as well as stillbirth. A treatment known as IPTs-SP exists that can prevent malaria in expectant mothers, but fewer than 22 percent of women in Mozambique receive adequate dosages during their pregnancy.

The MCSP project is empowering healthcare providers in Mozambique to treat malaria cases in pregnant women regardless of their complexity. For example, a young pregnant woman who had malaria but was also HIV-positive could not receive IPTp-SP treatments because the drug is incompatible with her HIV treatment. However, a different medication was able to be prescribed by an MCSP-trained nurse who had been trained on how to handle a variety of malaria cases.

The project also implemented a Standards-Based Management and Recognition for Malaria program in 58 health facilities in the Zambézia Province. This program is working to collect better data about malaria cases and more effectively implement initiatives for prevention and treatment.

Mozambique-Canada Maternal Health Project

Improving maternal health in Mozambique is a priority for the University of Saskatchewan as well. Researchers from the university are working with Mozambique’s health ministry and the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) to empower women in 20 different communities through the Mozambique-Canada Maternal Health Project.

Education is a key piece to this project, providing information on maternal, reproductive and sexual health to community members in a way that is participatory and engaging for adolescents and adults. The project is also prioritizing the education of health practitioners to improve the quality of care for mothers in Mozambique.

Additionally, the project seeks to improve resources in the community that can improve maternal and newborn health. They intend to provide local ambulances, establish maternal waiting homes nearby to clinics and support local midwives. The latter is the most important, as having locals who are trained health personnel can greatly benefit rural women who may not have the time or financial resources (particularly in situations of poverty) to travel to a clinic.

These efforts indicate that maternal health in Mozambique is continuing to be a priority. The work that these organizations are doing is focused on empowering women to make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives, ensuring health personnel are properly trained and accessible and meeting the needs of poorer women.

Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr

radicalization in refugeesRefugees are a part of society in every country. Global interconnectivity has provided refugees more opportunities to escape the persecution they have experienced in their home countries. However, that same interconnectivity doesn’t always extend to the small communities where the refugees end up living. Isolation and poverty can sometimes lead to desperation and radicalization in refugees.

Social Cohesion

Social cohesion, as defined in BMC Medicine, “is the ability of a given society to be inclusive of all cultural and social groups, so that they work cooperatively.” A willingness to cooperate with one another has many benefits, including the promotion of healthier and more just communities with lower violent crime rates. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. In a world that is so politically, culturally and historically diverse, these differences can sometimes seem to build barriers.

Indeed, many factors exist that can undermine social cohesion, including both social and economic isolation as well as discrimination. Marginalized members of society, specifically refugees and immigrants, are most commonly impacted. These populations often arrive in their host countries not able to speak the language and with limited support systems.  Social isolation frequently leads to economic isolation, meaning that refugees and immigrants are at a higher risk of falling into poverty.

Moreover, discrimination often faced by marginalized communities can further undermine social cohesion and is commonly linked with poorer health and unemployment. The negative impacts not only hurt these members but prevent them from contributing to the economy, affecting the community as a whole. Overall, communities that prioritize social inclusion and cultural understanding breed healthier societies and citizens.

Radicalization in Refugees

According to the 2017 IEP’s Global Terrorism Index, terrorism cost the world an estimated $84 billion in 2016. In addition, 77 countries reported at least one death as a result of terrorism, and 106 countries reportedly suffered at least one terrorist attack. Overall, Europe and other developed countries have seen a spike in levels of violence. With an ever-evolving terrorism landscape, more home-grown terrorists are perpetrating attacks using new methods. The nature of this ever-evolving threat means that terrorism persists as a major global issue. For this reason, the identification of isolation and discrimination as risk factors for violent radicalization is especially important in preventing violence.

Youth populations are most vulnerable to succumbing to violent ideologies since adolescence is an extremely formative period for identity. Living in poor social conditions can weaken links with socially inclusive networks, making way for new spheres of influence. Ideologically driven groups associated with violent radicalization often monopolize on this opportunity to offer an alienated member of society the chance to belong. For this reason, terrorist groups often target younger populations for new recruits, as they are the most vulnerable.

Thus far, most counterterrorism efforts have put an emphasis on the criminal justice system. This means focusing almost exclusively on those who are already planning on committing a crime and not on prevention. Not only may this partial focus be inhibiting success, but in some cases, it has further encouraged radicalization in refugees by singling out specific religious groups. If behavioral sciences like psychology and sociology are used in public health programs to prevent violence, couldn’t counterterrorism efforts similarly follow this example? 

Preventing Radicalization in Refugees

A new-wave of counterterrorism efforts can offer a new perspective on how to prevent violent threats through better comprehension of human complexity. Focusing on understanding individuals’ demographics, stories and culture in order to better employ protective factors, like social support programs, would be monumental. Furthermore, crafting programs that promote trust and integration is key. By creating safe environments for all demographics and cultures, risk factors for violent radicalization in refugees can be reduced and, hopefully, eradicated.

France is one of the first countries to apply this approach. In 2017 alone, 100,755 people requested asylum in France. For this reason, President Emanuel Macron’s administration has taken steps to aide new refugees and immigrants to integrate into their new host country through a community service program called Volont’r.

The program, launched in January 2019, aims to teach young refugees (between the ages of 16 and 25) about French values, language and culture through immersion. Refugees are given the opportunity to earn a living and to learn French through government-sponsored classes. The program also plans to recruit 1,500 French citizens to help guide 500 refugees to set and meet personal goals and to build networks.

Volont’r is an example of successfully addressing key risk factors for radicalization in refugees by using a public health approach. New refugees are no longer left in isolation because of a language barrier and a lack of social connections. Falling into poverty is prevented by providing tools for employment.

Learning Social Cohesion

Vulnerable populations must be given the opportunity to learn the codes of their new society, promoting integration into an environment where they are heard and understood. In an ever more globally connected world, France believes that building relationships, not walls, is the key to making the world a healthier and safer place. This is an important lesson all countries could benefit from not only for the health and safety of its refugee population but also to reduce the instances of radicalization in refugees.

Natalie Abdou
Photo: Flickr

Eye Care for Ebola SurvivorsWhile Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in just Western Africa in 2014-2015, the thousands who survived are now at risk of developing vision loss face issues caused by the infection. These survivors commonly face vision problems, ranging from uveitis (a form of eye inflammation) to optic neuropathy to panuveitis (inflammation of all the layers of the uveal tract).

One study found that nearly 40 percent of the people observed developed an ocular disease. The most common symptoms were blurry vision and photophobia — sensitivity to light — observed in 76 and 68 percent of patients, respectively. Tearing, pain, floaters and redness in the eyes were also prevalent. Many of those examined also had glaucoma and retinal detachment.

The Congo’s Reaction to the Latest Ebola Outbreak

Learning from previous outbreaks, the Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently set up a clinic in Beni to provide eye care for Ebola survivors. This is the first time that follow-up eye treatment has been offered so soon after patients have been released from care. A similar clinic has also been established in Butembo, another heavily affected area.

Survivors of Ebola have helped establish this clinic, providing aid and community outreach in this time of need. Emory University and the University of North Carolina have also donated ophthalmologists to help the effort get on its feet. Organizations, such as the WHO, are also working with the Ministry of Health to keep the clinics thriving.

So far, 250 people have been seen and examined. From their initial tests, complications like uveitis were low compared to previous outbreaks. Plans are also in place to train 10 Congolese ophthalmologists on Ebola-related issues in order to expand treatment options for patients. Over the following months, more clinics will be established to accommodate more than 300 patients who are on the waiting list.

The Need for Screening

While it remains unclear as to why Ebola affects people’s vision, it is clear that there is some correlation. Some studies show that Ebola may lead to uveitis because a higher viral load enables Ebola to enter the eye and establish viral persistence, which later leads to uveitis.

Doctors are finding that eye care for Ebola survivors relies heavily on early screening. One study showed that patients who were promptly screened for an initial assessment for the disease were easier to treat and at less risk for reduced vision. While more research is needed to determine the links between Ebola and visions loss, the establishment of clinics in disease-prone areas is a step in the right direction.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr